Electrical Energy Matters

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SWBAT identify properties of materials that conduct and insulate electricity.

Big Idea

Students will test materials to determine which ones are conductors or insulators.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Matter and Energy unit focuses on matter: anything that takes up space, has mass, and can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed.  To help students develop their understanding of these concepts, they take part in a variety of guided inquiries geared towards scaffolding this understanding.  This unit begins by defining matter and its properties. Students apply these properties throughout the unit as they explore how matter changes forms, how temperature effects solids, liquids, and gases, and how a mixture and solution differ. They need to develop an understanding of these forms of matter as the second half of the unit will focus on physical and chemical changes of objects and substances, reactions, and electrical and magnetic energy.

Lesson Synopsis

In the Electrical Energy Matters lesson, students create circuits using wires, batteries, and light bulbs. Then, they test conductors and insulators in a circuit to identify materials that have properties that allow electricity to flow through it. They apply their understanding of this by completing a three part open response question. This is collected as an assessment on their understanding of materials that conduct or insulator electrical currents.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s): 

5-PS1-3. Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.

Why Do I Teach this Lesson?

I teach the day 1-Electrical Energy Matters lesson because many of my students have very limited background in science. Since the elementary school's within my district do not formally teach science prior to my students entering the 5th grade (the middle school). I find it important to expose my students to inquiry based investigations and apply their evidence to explain outcomes and phenomenons. Furthermore, providing my students the opportunity to practice this type of discourse will help to facilitate their scientific thinking for future investigations in any lesson.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices

2.) Developing and Using Models:  Students use wires, batteries, and light bulbs to create circuits.  They test a variety of materials to identify conductors and insulators.

8.) Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information: Students obtain and use information from their investigation to answer an open response questions. They use what they have learned in their investigation to summarize scientific notions.

Crosscutting Concepts

The day 1-Electrical Energy Matters lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

2.) Cause and Effect:  Students identify properties of materials that cause electricity to either pass through it to light a light bulb or stop it from flowing through to light the bulb.

6.) Structure and Function: Students identify the kinds of materials that conduct or insulate the flow of electricity.  They develop an understanding of how the structural properties of certain materials conducts or insulates electricity.  They observe how these materials functions as a conductor or an insulator..

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

PS1.A Structure of Matter:  Measurements of variety of observable properties can be used to identify particular materials. (Because matter exists as particles that are too small to see, matter is always conserved even if it seems to disappear.) 

PS3.A Definitions of Energy: Energy can be moved from place to place by moving objects, or through sound, light, or electrical currents. Energy can be converted from one form to another form.


Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


5 minutes

I begin the lesson by posting the question: "What are some things you use in your life that require electricity."  I want my students to think about their own life experiences. This will facilitate active participation as every student identifies something in their life to contribute to the board.

Using the whip around share strategy, students each have a chance to share their ideas.  As I hear them, I record them on the board. Many shares include: tv, video games, computers, refrigerator, toaster, computer, and many others.  

Then I lead the class into a discussion, "If all of these items need electricity, how do we go about getting it."  Some students share that it comes from the plug; however I push them to think beyond the walls and to think of how it gets to our homes and buildings.  We engage in a discussion on the wires outside and how they lead back to a power company which supplies the electricity.  


15 minutes

Previewing Vocabulary

After discussing how we use electricity and how it comes into our homes and other places, I move students' attention to the board where I write the term electricity and define it, the collection or flow of electrical charges. Then I add the word current. I define this word as the flow of electrical charges through a material, and explain that they will be investigating how electrical charges flow through materials and make things work. We call this flow of moving charges from one material to another, electricity.

Setting the Focus

Then, I direct students to the standards board and call on a volunteer to read it aloud:

"Today we will use wires and batteries to construct a pathway for electrical charges to travel on. We will test a variety of object on this pathway to determine what kinds of materials allow electricity to flow through them."

I add on stating, "we have been investigating all kinds of materials and their properties throughout our matter unit. Let's keep these properties in mind as we explore how electricity can move through some materials but not others."

Directed Inquiry

I hand out a recording sheet and a battery board to each pair of students. (they are working in their elbow partners.) I ask students to identify the components on the battery board so they understand how the parts on the board work together to create a circuit later in the lesson.   As a class, we identify the components on the board as a battery, two sockets (where light bulbs will be placed), two wires- a red one extending from the positive end of the battery and a black on extending from the negative end of a battery. Students identify the battery as the source of electricity. I explain that the battery has stored electrical charges and those charges are released when it has a path to travel on.

battery board

Before we begin, I tell students they are going to take a few minutes to explore the battery board by trying to light a small bulb with just the wires and battery.  I want them to recognize the parts/materials of the bulb that allow the electrical charges to pass through it and light the bulb.  Since the light bulb has a metal casing around one part of it and a rubber casing around the other, they need to figure out which part of the bulb conducts electricity for it to light up. I hand them the small light bulb and instruct them to work with their partner and use the two wires from the battery board to try and light it up.  I call on students to share what they noticed about the parts of the bulb that worked when the wire from the battery made contact and what parts did not.

After sharing, I ask them to place it in the socket. This time I ask them to use the wires from the battery and connect the them to the outside portion of the socket the bulb is in. I want them to see that it lights the bulb. Once they make the bulb light up, I ask them to diagram it on their recording sheet.  Creating a visual model helps them recognize the path they have made. We briefly discuss the path they have created and identify it as a circuit (the path the electricity takes forms a loop; it begins and ends in the same place.) I write this term on the board.  Students identify that the electricity leaves the battery, travels through the wire, into the socket and bulb, over to the other wire, and back to the battery. This pre-investigation provides them with some background knowledge. I want them to have an understanding of a circuit because they are using a variety of materials to see if the path of electricity continues or stops.

Next, I hand out another connecting wire and ask them to create a circuit that includes both wires to  make the bulb light up.  I want them to see that adding another wire still allows electricity to flow, it just takes a longer path.  Then I ask them to disconnect one wire and observe what happens. They share the bulb went out.  I explain that removing the wire stopped the electric charge from continuing to move along the path, therefore could not make bulb light. I add on, "this is similar to a switch that we use on a wall when we turn a light on and off.  When we turn it off, this action opens a gap in the circuit, We call this an open circuit.  When it is closed, it is known as a closed circuit. I draw a simple diagram on the board so they have a visual of my explanation.

switch on and off in a circuitOnce we have identified a basic circuit, I challenge them by handing out a second light bulb. I ask students create a circuit that lights up both light bulbs with only the materials they have-circuit board, an additional wire, two bulbs.  I want them to recognize that electricity can and will travel along any closed circuit pathway, no matter the complexity of its design.  Once they have completed this task, they diagram it on their recording sheet.

student diagrams

I explain to them, that they have created what is known as a series circuit, meaning the electricity moves through more than one material, in the case, two bulbs. 

I call on students to share their diagram and explain how electrical current flows through it.

Elaborate / Explain

15 minutes

Guided Student Led Inquiry

Now each pair of students receives a container of materials: matchstick, plastic soda bottle cap, paper clip, copper penny, steel nail, rubber band, pull tab, and string.  I selected these materials because some conduct electricity and the others do not.  I want students to determine which properties of the materials that allow electricity to flow and which ones stop it.

Before testing each item, I ask my students to make a prediction about each item, will electricity flow through it and light the bulb?  They make these prediction in a table on their recording sheet.   Then, using the additional connecting wire, my students work together and test each object by placing it in between the bare ends of the wires. They record the results on the table with a Y (for yes), and N (for no).  

Connecting Vocabulary to Our Investigation

Once my students finish testing the materials, and recording the results, I reconvene the class to discuss the outcome.  We identify materials that allowed electricity to flow through as the paper clip, nail, pull tab, penny.  Then we identify materials that prevented the electricity from flowing as the rubber band, string, plastic soda bottle cap, and matchstick. (toothpick)

I explain to them that materials that can complete an electric circuit are known as conductors and materials that cannot complete an electric circuit are called insulators. My students write these terms next to their meanings under their data table.

We discuss how the conductors (materials) that electricity flows through are alike.  Many students identify these materials as some form of metal which allow the electrical current to pass through it.

I continue our discussion by explaining that many materials made of metal are good conductors because an electrical charge or electricity can move through them easily.  I add on saying some liquids like water can act as a conductor. I point this out for so they make the connection as to why we have to get out of the pool or lake the during a thunderstorm. Lighting is a form of electricity that travels through conductors like water. 



5 minutes

In the remaining time, I wrap up this lesson by handing out a homework assignment that asks them to apply what they have learned about currents, conductors, and insulators. I further explain that they are using what they have learned from their observations, evidence, and vocabulary during the lesson lesson to answer the open response questions. 

I selected these questions because they are similar to the questions used on the state standardized test in science given at the end of the year.

The next day, I collect responses to check for understanding.  I am assessing their understanding on how some materials conduct or insulate the flow of electricity.